Dáil Éireann - Volume 479 - 13 May, 1997
Adjournment Debate. - Schools Building Projects.
Mr. Jacob Mr. Jacob
Mr. Jacob: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the extremely generous way he has facilitated me tonight and for permitting me to raise with the Minister for Education the need for the Department to immediately allocate funding for the provision of a new school at St. Cronan's, in Bray, County Wicklow. I thank the Minister of State for attending in the House at this late hour to debate with me this very important issue.
I am saddened and more than a little angry at the lack of attention my constituency of Wicklow has received in recent years in the area of education. I have spent a considerable period complaining that the economic boom is passing County Wicklow by and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of education. We were building schools and school extensions in County  Wicklow in the lean and hungry years of the late eighties and early nineties. Now, in these affluent times when the economy is booming, no funding for education is coming Wicklow's way. It is an extraordinary situation and impossible to comprehend. It is also unacceptable.
As regards St. Cronan's, a number of simple factors have combined so that children of a modern town are educated in conditions which bear more resemblance to the era of the hedge schools than to what one might expect would be provided by the Government in a modern developed economy. If our children are our future, then surely we should be prepared to invest in them, not just with a view to reaping a reward, but to nurture them and give practical meaning to the noble aspirations of our Constitution. The case is simply put, so I do not intend to allow my message to be lost in a long winded speech.
St. Cronan's has 333 pupils and 13 teachers: ten class teachers, one remedial and one resource teacher and the principal. Some six classes are in prefabs, the newest of which is about 14 years old, the oldest more than 20. There are only four proper classrooms. Urine leaks from the first floor toilets to the floor below. There is no fire exit from upstairs classes. The staff room was built for eight teachers and now accommodates 13. It is also the venue for cookery classes and is used to receive any visitors who come to the school. There is only one teacher toilet at which teachers frequently have to queue. The equipment storage room is a shed, which is not overburdened because the school has no proper PE equipment as the hall is too small. These are but a few of the worst problems affecting the school. The situation is aggravated by the fact that much of the school comprises temporary accommodation in dire need of improvement. Repairs, however, would be futile as most of this accommodation is beyond repair. In any event, funding for these critical repairs is not forthcoming from the Department because the school is included in the capital programme. This is a dilemma.
Although this school is in the garden county of Wicklow, improvements in road infrastructure in the past ten years mean it is effectively in a suburb of Dublin where the population has mushroomed. The demographic picture in south Bray is one where there are hundreds, if not thousands, of new houses. These are occupied for the most part by young couples who will probably have school-going children in a few years. The current need is pressing but demographic projections and the rate at which progress has been made to date suggests a crisis will shortly arise.
I do not seek to engage in political point-scoring but only wish to use this opportunity to bring to the Minister's attention the dire need to provide accommodation at St. Cronan's and to  ensure it lends itself to expansion in future to meet the projected needs of the area in the next five to ten years. I also seek an unqualified commitment from the Minister that the necessary funding will be provided without further delay and that she will formally announce this commitment now or before the Dáil adjourns this week.
I pay tribute to the parents and staff at the school who have done all that is humanly possible to ensure that, despite the deplorable conditions, the children receive the best possible education.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: I am pleased to be given the opportunity of outlining to the House the Department's position regarding St. Cronan's boys' national school, Bray, County Wicklow. The school has a staffing of a principal, 11 assistants and one remedial teacher with an enrolment of 334 pupils. It is currently located in an old four classroom school with six prefabricated classrooms. The Department fully accepts the school's requirement for a new building.
For that reason a project to build a new school was included in the 1995 capital building programme. It will be located on parish land adjacent to the existing school. The accommodation brief consists of 16 classrooms and ancillary accommodation. The project is being dealt with in-house by the Department's architectural service. A fire safety certificate was obtained on 20 November 1996 and a notification of full planning permission was received from Bray Urban District Council on 3 March 1997. The detailed design documents are currently being prepared and it is expected to have the tender documents ready by June 1997.
When my colleague, Deputy Bhreathnach, became Minister for Education in 1993, she was faced with a very difficult backlog of 300 urgent major school projects. These had accumulated because of the substantial cuts in the capital funding of primary schools in the period 1988-92. In the past four years, the Government increased the capital funding of schools significantly and substantial progress has been made in reducing the backlog.
The project at St. Cronan's is a sizeable one, not least because the site is difficult. While it is not possible to give a definite timescale for construction at this stage, I assure the House the Minister for Education is committed to solving the accommodation needs of schools such as St. Cronan's and every effort will be made to allow this project to proceed to construction at the earliest opportunity. The position was explained to a delegation from the school which ment the Minister recently on 6 March. The delegation understood the situation and the position now is as I outlined to the House.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 May 1997.
Dáil Éireann 479 Adjournment Debate. Schools Building Projects.